Tour de France Grand Depart diary

Garlic bulbs
Image caption The garlic and spoon race was a genius invention said Matt Slater

With the world's biggest bike race starting in Leeds on 5 July, BBC Yorkshire's Tour de France correspondent Matt Slater rounds up the best of the gossip, opinion and stories, on and off the bike, and also tries to explain some of cycling's unique lingo.


You only have to look at the lonely hearts column (I have for research purposes) to see how highly human beings value a "good sense of humour". Sadly, it is part of the human condition that we cannot decide what this might look and sound like - each to their own and all that. For evidence of this look no further than the northern reaches of the Tour's first stage. A sign on the route in West Tanfield saying "Welcome to Widowmakers Bend" has prompted criticism from some cyclists who think this is in bad taste. And a little further back in Gunnerside somebody has decorated their front garden with a wheel-less bike that appears to have crashed into a flowerbed. One cyclist described this "depiction of a cycle at odds with the spirit of the area and more like Jeremy Clarkson welcoming the Tour". The sign-owner in West Tanfield is having none of it, though. "It's not that dangerous a bend," he explained. "If you were in soap box derby it might be but not for professional riders."

Full story: Northern Echo

Perhaps the story above is just a case of visitors not getting the locals' dry humour - a cultural misunderstanding, if you will. If that is the case it reinforces the need for different communities to explore each other's customs. So "well done", or "chapeau", to Pocklington Infant School in East Yorkshire for their French-themed sports day. The garlic and spoon race was genius.

Full story: Pocklington Post

Continuing on the "friends-through-sport" theme, Sheffield Eagles and Leeds Rhinos great Keith Senior is riding more than 1,000 miles from Perpignan in the foothills of the Pyrenees, to Leeds on the banks of the mighty Aire, over the course of eight days from this Saturday. He is doing this to raise money for three charities, and to deliver the match ball for Sunday week's Leeds-Catalans Dragons game. Good luck, sir!

Full story: The Star


Tuesday felt like the day the wheels finally came off the "Wiggo to the Tour" bandwagon, but also the day we got a dress rehearsal of the performance the vast majority of the crowd in Yorkshire will be hoping for on Saturday, 5 July.

Let us deal with Sir Bradley Wiggins' woes first. Having been sent to the Tour of Switzerland with Team Sky's B team, he endured four pretty miserable days of riding which culminated in a crash about 25km from the fourth stage's finish. The 2012 Tour de France champion had been pootling along at the back of a field, struggling with a chest infection, when another rider ploughed into him. He did pick himself up eventually and ride gingerly to the finish, but it put the cherry on top of a bad week. It was no surprise when confirmation came through on Wednesday that he was on his way home. His next ride will be the time trial at the British Cycling National Road Championships in Wales next week.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mark Cavendish has celebrated another victory

Far, far better, however, was the news further up the road, because 12 minutes before Wiggins crossed the line in Ossingen, Mark Cavendish did so, arms aloft, celebrating another victory. But what was so special about this one was that it was after a slightly uphill sprint, and he surged past the man who will probably be his toughest opponent on the slightly uphill sprint into Harrogate. A repeat of Tuesday's Swiss display in the Yorkshire spa town would be a real tonic.


"Happy birthday to the greatest of all time - Eddy Merckx."

@lancearmstrong, a man who some once made an argument for in the all-time great stakes, sends 69th birthday wishes to a rider whose status as the sport's greatest is now almost undisputed.


I have so far avoided listing any doping-related items in this section but sandwiched between mentions of Armstrong, Merckx, Hincapie and O'Grady it seems reasonable to do it now. Armstrong's and Hincapie's stories are well documented, and O'Grady was named in a French Senate report into blood-doping at the 1998 Tour, but Merckx's three positive drugs tests are less well known these days.

The positives came in 1969, 1973 and 1977, and they were for three different stimulants. In terms of the drugs that were to come into the sport later, these were small beer. It should also be remembered that this was long before the advent of the World Anti-Doping Agency, or serious drug-testing. There simply was not the same stigma attached to doping back then. But Merckx's story indicates just how integral performance-enhancing drugs have been to the sport over the decades. Armstrong did not invent doping.


American George Hincapie and Australia's Stuart O'Grady both started 17 Tours during the long careers, although Hincapie "lost" three of those because of his involvement in the US Postal/Lance Armstrong doping scandal. That leaves O'Grady, who retired last year, out in front on his own. An Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion on the track, he also won two stages at the Tour and finished second in the green jersey competition four times.

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